Government, including the criminal justice system, is supposed to be answerable to the people. However, there are times when the “law” and the “will of the people” may conflict. This may be due to evolving social preferences that lawmakers have not yet caught up to, or it might also be due to different communities having different standards. Resolving the conflict between “doing what the law requires” and “serving the will of the people” is often not a black-and-white decision.
This week’s discussion will examine this conflict from several angles.
Should the police have the ability to selectively enforce only those laws that the public wants to have enforced? In other words, should the police ignore offenses when the law in question is not a popular one?
Should the police or prosecutor have the power to decide against charging a particular offender if it is clear that the local population does not want that person to be prosecuted? Provide a real or imaginary example that would illustrate this dilemma and justify your choice.
Should the police enforce laws differently from one community to the next, if those communities express differing standards? If you agree that the community should have influence or even oversight over the local police, how can this be achieved? research about police agencies that utilize a community policing strategy.
These dilemmas can affect all levels of law enforcement, but sheriffs in particular have to wrestle with it. Analyze why sheriffs should be more concerned with the “will of the people” when that will seems to be in conflict with the letter of the law.
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